Let’s face it: most movies today are made in America. Sure, there are plenty of Chinese, British, Japanese, and Indian films made, but it seems the vast majority come out of Hollywood. Partly because Iran isn’t necessarily in a friendly relationship with the United States, very few films are set in this Middle Eastern country. This doesn’t mean Iran doesn’t have its own film industry, it just means the films most likely to be seen by a wide audience are Americanocentric. After all, people want to watch films with characters they can relate to, and one of the ways we can relate to characters is to have them come from similar geographic areas. For people who live in Iran, films set in Iran can be quite relatable. However, sometimes Iran can be set as the “enemy’s territory” in order to provide conflict to a story. This week’s two films examine Iran as a setting.
Length: 96 minutes / 1.6 hours
There is an intrinsic innocence in the point of view of a child. Because of their trusting nature, they often don’t question the events happening around them. That is until the events start to affect their lives. Since “winners” get to write history, the stories of the losing side often become lost. The somewhat recent Iranian revolution certainly affected plenty of children, but few have been able to tell their story as well as Marjane Satrapi. While technically based off of her memoir, a French graphic novel, the French film Persepolis (2007) gives an intimate look into the lives of Iranians during the most turbulent stage of political unrest their country has ever seen. Through young Marjane’s eyes, we see a family forced to succumb to the changing tide of Iran’s society and a child who is helpless to do anything about it.
In the capital city of Tehran, Marjane Satrapi (Chiara Mastroianni) is raised by parents who support the revolution to give the citizens of Iran more freedom (via communism). Unfortunately, when the Islamic Fundamentalists take control of the government, many of her freedoms are constrained. No longer can Marjane publicly enjoy her love of punk rock, heavy metal music, and other musicians contributing to her Western-leaning influence. Because of her vocal qualms with the government, she is sent to Europe by herself. Growing up away from her family, she finds that the rest of the world is prejudiced against her because of her Iranian origins. After a sickness nearly kills her, she returns to Iran to recover, only to find that the state of the country has gotten worse. With no other options available to her, she emigrates from Iran, leaving her loving family behind.
Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours
Part of the reason many Iranian films are unknown to American audiences is because they have rarely been nominated for Best Foreign Film. Around 1994, Iran has submitted a film for consideration for almost every year since but has only been nominated twice. Children of Heaven (1998) was their first nomination, but their second nomination, A Separation (2011), resulted in a win. It’s difficult to know when they’ll be nominated again, but with increasing globalization we can assume the competition for the nominee spots will certainly become more difficult in each successive year. Of course, these are merely films made by Iran. The 2012 Best Picture winner, Argo, was set in Iran, even if it was an American film. As a result, the Iranians in Argo are seen as antagonists instead of protagonists.
Based on real-life events, Argo follows CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) as he uses his expertise in exfiltration to rescue six individuals who managed to escape the hostage crisis of 1979. With the help of some Hollywood contacts, Tony starts putting together a cover for the diplomats to use and escape Tehran with little to no hassle. Posing as location scouts for a fake science fiction film, he manages to coach the six on their roles as Canadian filmmakers. Meanwhile, the Iranian revolutionaries are piecing together shredded personnel files and soon learn of the identities of the six missing hostages. Now at the airport, the Americans manage to exhibit their cover identities and board the plane toward freedom.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Iranian settings